Founded in 1998, Longborough Festival Opera is possibly the only summer opera venue in the United Kingdom that puts Wagner at the centre of its operations. Glyndebourne may have produced Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, but it has never staged Der Ring des Nibelungen, whereas Longborough is already onto staging a full Cycle for the third time. In entirely new productions by Royal Opera House Head Staff Director Amy Lane, the aim is to produce one opera a year between 2019 and 2022 and then the entire tetralogy in 2023.
Things got off to a brilliant start last year with a first rate production of Das Rheingold, which boasted a thoughtful and innovative staging and some excellent performances. It is therefore impossible not to be excited by the prospect of Die Walküre (from 4 June). This is partly because it is many people’s favourite of the four works, but mainly because there are so many promising signs that it will be something special.
It is conducted by Anthony Negus, a consummate Wagnerian who has led every performance by the composer since Longborough’s inception, while the cast have already proved their mettle. Mark Le Brocq sang and acted his heart out as Loge last year, thus ensuring that his performance as Siegmund is hotly anticipated. Lee Bissett sang Sieglinde for Opera North and Isolde here three years ago, so there should be much to look forward to in her Brünnhilde. Meanwhile, Paul Carey Jones, who sings Wotan, displayed a wondrous bass-baritone as the chief god in Grimeborn Festival’s Das Rheingold last summer and as Lescaut in Holland Park’s Manon Lescaut. Sarah Marie Kramer sings Sieglinde, Madeleine Shaw reprises her role of Fricka from last year while Julian Close is Hunding.
Longborough does not only focus on Wagner, however, and for the second year running it is presenting a work by Donizetti, albeit one quite different in tone to last year’s Anna Bolena. It seems safe to say that The Elixir of Love (from 25 June) will be both innovative and dynamic as it is being directed by Giffords Circus’ Cal McCrystal, who was the physical comedy consultant on the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors and two Paddington films, and directed an hilarious Iolanthe for English National Opera in 2018. Alice Farnham conducts while Jung Soo Yun (who played Percy in Anna Bolena) sings Nemorino and Emyr Wyn Jones plays Dulcamara. Robyn Allegra Parton (who sang Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos here in 2018) is Adina, Marcus Farnsworth sings Belcore and Lizzie Holmes plays Gianetta.
Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (from 14 July) will see Longborough join with the Academy of Ancient Music to perform Monteverdi’s masterpiece on period instruments, as Longborough’s Artistic Director Polly Graham makes her directorial debut at the festival. Tom Randle takes on the title role while the cast also includes Lucia Cervoni as Penelope, Ben Johnson as Eumete and Francesca Chiejina as Melanto.
The Emerging Artist programme is a Longborough initiative to help up-and-coming singers and players. While recent years have seen it focus on seventeenth and eighteenth century works including Alcina, Orfeo ed Euridice, L’incoronazione di Poppea and La Calisto, this year it is presenting The Cunning Little Vixen (from 30 July). It will be directed by Olivia Fuchs, who has many triumphs to her name at Opera Holland Park, conducted by Justin Brown, the current Music Director of Karlsruhe State Theatre, and feature the Longborough Youth Chorus, which comprises local children. Julieth Lozano plays Vixen Sharp-Ears and Kieran Rayner sings the Forester, while the opera, along with The Elixir of Love, will be sung in English. Das Rheingold and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, on the other hand, will be performed in their original languages, but all four productions will feature English surtitles.
Longborough Festival Opera’s 2020 season runs from 4 June to 4 August. For further details and to book tickets visit the Longborough Festival Opera website.